The Weekend Wanderer: 9 May 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 10.42.06 AM“The UK Blessing — Churches sing ‘The Blessing’ over the UK” – Seriously, you have to watch this video. I know, when someone says that, you may be skeptical like me, but do yourself a favor and watch the beauty of various churches of various denominations across the UK coming together to sing a blessing over their nation. You may also enjoy hearing this interview with Tim Hughes, writer of the well-known song “Here I am To Worship,” about the project.


singing“German churches stopped singing to prevent virus’s spread. Should Americans clam up, too?” – Speaking of singing…I had a conversation with a group of pastors about what congregational gatherings would be like after the pandemic. To be honest, it was a bit of an unsettling conversation because we jointly realized that a good deal of what we experience as corporate worship would be changed by physical distancing, mask-wearing, and the necessary precautions of cleaning before and after services in all spaces. Then I read this article, and it really made me consider something else: should we sing corporately when we first regather or not?


Ahmaud Arbery“Ahmaud Arbery, the Killing of Whiteness, & the Preservation of Black Lives in America” – I remember talking with my friend, Bishop Walter Harvey, in the midst of our work with The Milwaukee Declaration about what it means for someone who is white to see the world in the way someone does who is black. Of course, you cannot do that entirely, but we agreed that at least part of that new sort of vision is when you feel the fear for each other’s children’s safety in walking down the street or when your heart drops as you see another black life taken. This last week brought that home to me again with the brutal killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. The concept of whiteness is much debated, but I will go on record in saying what should be obvious: white supremacy and racism have no place in Christianity or Christ’s Church, and should be opposed in the broader culture. Why? Because each and every person is made in God’s image and valuable in God’s sight, but also because God makes space for “every nation, tribe, people and language” equally before the throne of God for eternity (Revelation 7:9-10) that should be imaged forth now on earth (Galatians 3:28). There is equal ground before the Cross of Christ and in the family of God. It is difficult to put into words, but I urge you to read this article by Celucien L. Joseph at The Witness. You may also benefit from reading Russell Moore’s “The Killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the Justice of God” and Andrew MacDonald’s “Don’t Look Away: Why Ahmaud Arbery’s Tragedy Must Be Addressed Head On.”


Pakistan sewer cleaners“Sewer Cleaners Wanted in Pakistan: Only Christians Need Apply” – “Before Jamshed Eric plunges deep below Karachi’s streets to clean out clogged sewers with his bare hands, he says a little prayer to Jesus to keep him safe. The work is grueling, and he wears no mask or gloves to protect him from the stinking sludge and toxic plumes of gas that lurk deep underground. ‘It is a difficult job,’ Mr. Eric said. ‘In the gutter, I am often surrounded by swarms of cockroaches.’ After a long day, the stench of his work lingers even at home, a constant reminder of his place in life. ‘When I raise my hand to my mouth to eat, it smells of sewage,’ he said. A recent spate of deaths among Christian sewer cleaners in Pakistan underscores how the caste discrimination that once governed the Indian subcontinent’s Hindus lingers, no matter the religion.”


Thomas Lynch“Death Without Ceremony: We need time and space to grieve. The pandemic denies us this.” – American poet, essayist, and undertaker, Thomas Lynch, at The Atlantic: “Faith, we are told, inoculates against fear. We are all in this together, the president says. I wonder. Though I was named after my father’s dead uncle, my faith has been shaken into a provisional pose. Rather than serve a bishop or church, I chose, like my father, ‘to serve the living by caring for the dead.’ Some days it seems obvious that a loving God’s in charge; others it seems we are entirely alone.”


117211“Letter Writing Isn’t a Lost Art in Egypt. It’s an Ancient Ministry.” – I was beginning to write an article on the pastoral ministry of letter writing, when I stumbled upon this article about the ancient and present ministry of letter writing in the Egyptian Coptic church. “In his rural New Jersey home, Wafik Habib carefully laid out his letter collection before us, now more than a half century old. Handwritten by the late Bishop Samuel to the physician, they represented the bishop’s pastoral care to a nascent diaspora Christian community started in 1950s North America. We could sense the bishop’s presence in the words of comfort and exhortation set to pen and paper.”


black hole“Astronomers Discover the Closest Known Black Hole” – Since I was a young child, I have been fascinated by astronomy. Black holes are one of those most fascinating objects, not only because of the 1979 Disney movie, but because of the fascinating impact black holes have on space and time. Now astronomers have discovered the closest known black hole to our solar system. “The pair of stars in a system called HR 6819 is so close to us that on a clear night in the Southern Hemisphere, a person might be able to spot them without a telescope. What that stargazer wouldn’t see, though, is the black hole hiding right there in the constellation Telescopium. At just 1,000 light-years away, it is the closest black hole to Earth ever discovered, and it could help scientists find the rest of the Milky Way’s missing black holes.


ECPAChristianBookAward“Christian Book Awards 2020” – The Christian Book Awards for 2020 were announced this past week. I was not familiar with most of the titles, other than Harold L. Senkbeil’s The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s HeartThe book of the year award went to Mark Vroegop’s Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, which is an important topic that many of us are talking about right now.


Music: Cannonball Adderley Quintet, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Lamenting Our Losses: three vital parts of lament in the pandemic

lament.001

I was talking with a friend the other day about some of the changes we have experienced during the pandemic. Some of them were simple—activities we could no longer enjoy or places we could no longer visit—and others were more complex—missed milestones in our lives, friends and family members suffering with sickness, and concerns about the future.  Maybe you have had conversations like that recently as well. I certainly hope so because one of the most important things we can do in this time of the pandemic is to lament our losses. 

lamet 003Lament is commonly defined as “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” Within Scripture lament has the added significance of mingling our grief and sorrow with prayer as we bring it into the presence of God. Lament takes up a considerable amount of space in the Bible, from the psalms of lament to the Hebrew prophets to the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane and more. I often distinguish between complaint and lament by saying that with complaint we practice the presence of our problems, but with lament we practice the presence of God while simultaneously bringing our problems to Him. Complaint lives in agony with the self. Lament lives in agony with God. Each and every one of us needs lament these days. Let me suggest three parts of lament that are vital during this time of the pandemic.

The first is to name our losses. At a spiritual retreat I attended not too long ago, participants were asked to write a list of losses we had experienced in the past year. It was illuminating for me to write down things, whether small or large, I perceived as losses. When I read the list later, I realized some things that seemed small initially had become larger over time, occupying a lot of my background attention in life. Until I named those losses it was difficult for me to deal with them or let them go. Consider the words of the psalmist in Psalm 73 where inner troubles stewed until a name was given to the real source of trouble, both internally and externally.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalm 73:2-3)

So, let me ask us: have we named our losses? Have we written them down, given a name to  them, or voiced them aloud as a loss to ourselves or others? We cannot lament without naming our losses.

The second vital aspect of lament is to grieve our losses. For some of us, this can be particularly difficult. My Scandinavian upbringing has taught me how to work hard and persevere in trials, but it has not always helped me to grieve things appropriately. Grieving was something that I had to learn how to do. Grieving is an essential part of lament. As mentioned above, lament gives space for passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Think about David grieving the disastrous death of Saul and Jonathan at the hands of the Philistines.

A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel.
How the mighty have fallen! (2 Samuel 1:19)

Here is the anointed of God, a mighty warrior, a man after God’s own heart, lifting up loud cries of grief over the loss of a dear friend and the untimely ruin of a ruler. What about us? What are our losses? Have we given expression through grief about these things? If not, our souls become a cesspool of hidden pain and difficulty often leading to bitterness and anger.

lament.002The third vital aspect of lament is to bring our losses to God. You may think this last point is obvious, but I have found over the years that this more difficult than we might expect. One the one hand, we find it easy to linger in our troubles. We readily practice the presence of our problems to the point that they become a sort of sick companion. But lament is not about lingering alone in our griefs. Psychology without acknowledgment of God often becomes narcissistic. On the other hand, those of us familiar with the church seem to find it easiest to be happy or joyful in the presence of God instead of giving voice to our griefs and angst. A quick search through the most popular worship songs today reveals very few songs of authentic angst and pain brought into God’s presence. Spirituality without space for lament quickly becomes superficial. Consider with me the book of Habakkuk, where the prophet meets with God again and again in his pain and complaint.

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint. (Habakkuk 1:2; 2:1)

Habakkuk shows us what true lament looks like, when trouble and pain is named, grieved, and expressed in the presence of God.

Friends, I find it hard to express how important it is that we recover lament today. I am sure each that every one of us could fairly quickly make a long list if we tried to name our losses. However, I am less confident we are truly making space in life to grieve our losses and to do so in the presence of God. I worry for all of us that without lament the deep places of our souls will fill with bitterness and anger, and that such foul waters, undrained, will spring out into our lives and those around us when we least expect it causing great ruin. May God help us to lament!

The Weekend Wanderer: 2 May 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Zoom drain“The reason Zoom calls drain your energy” – Those of us participating in online web conference calls know that feeling of coming to the end of the day and wondering what happened. We didn’t really do that much, but we feel so drained. Is it because we are staring at screens for so long, because of bad body posture, or something else? That is exactly what Manyu Jiang explores in this very helpful and timely article.


Body of Work“A Body of Work” – If that previous article struck a chord with you, then you should really read Dr. Curt Thompson’s reflections on the same topic, but with additional theological and spiritual perspectives on life with God within the body with insights from interpersonal neurobiology. “The fact that our bodies do so much work that we do not consciously regulate reminds us that they are not mere extensions of our ‘real’ selves, as if who we really are is reducible to some private, internal collection of thoughts and emotions. That notion is a product of modernity, which would have us believing that our bodies, like the rest of creation, are things that we own, and therefore things we can manipulate for our own purposes, rather than gifts that we have been given to steward without our having any say in the matter. Gifts whose mere presence in the world are able to offer light and healing without our even being aware of it—until we no longer have access to that very presence.” If there is a must-read article in this edition of “The Weekend Wanderer” it is probably this one.


Trump-Evangelical-GettyImages-1192031829-780-x-508“Who Defines Evangelicalism? An Interview with Mark Noll” – I know, I know, you may be tired of articles about the definition of evangelicalism, but this one is different. This interview of Mark Noll by Eric Miller involves one of the preeminent historians of evangelicalism in this much-discussed subject while also addressing a recent book he helped to edit on the topic, Evangelicals: Who They Have Been, Are Now, and Could Be.. Noll was a history professor and authored the book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind when I was a student at Wheaton College, before he went on to teach at Notre Dame. There are few voices on evangelical history so respected in the broader culture and within evangelicalism as Noll.


Bruce Fields“Remembering Bruce Fields” – I did not know Bruce Fields personally, but I wish that I did after reading this remembrance from my friend, Vince Bacote. “Though he is no longer with us, there is still much to learn from him. Bruce was a highly reflective and humble man. He had tremendous knowledge but his discourse never laid an emphasis on how much he knew. Rather, what I picked up from him was a perpetual state of inquiry. He never hesitated to share his convictions but seemed aware that there was always much more to be known; he wanted to tread the academic path with curiosity, always seeking to learn more. He had a learner’s mindset and patience with the process.”


117097“How I Cured My Monday Hangover and Summer Slump” – A lot of pastors take Monday off to rest after a full weekend of ministry. I tried that for awhile, but found that I usually spent most Mondays rethinking everything from the weekend of ministry, leaving me with a distinctly sour state of mind. Before the pandemic, Friday was my usual day off, helping me feel like I had more of a normal weekend. Now, nothing is really normal, so we may need other help. I enjoyed J. R. Briggs’ reflections on natural body rhythms, seasons, and how that impacts our lives.


Screen Shot 2020-05-01 at 1.51.52 PM“Where to Look for New Life” – Wesley Hill writes a beautiful reflection on Holy Week, Easter, the New Testament, Philippians, and the kingdom of God in the midst of the pandemic. “According to the New Testament, the inbreaking kingdom of God isn’t only discernible in the moments of sunshine — the moments when the blind receive sight, the lepers are cleansed, and the poor have good news preached to them. It is equally discernible when those who face evil’s icy blasts are not undone by them but press through them in the power of Jesus’s indestructible risen life.”

 


 

Music: Jonathan McReynolds, “Make Room,” from Make Room

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 April 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 2.55.43 PM“When Christ conquered Caesar” – In my message this coming weekend at Eastbrook at the beginning of our new series, “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews,” I make reference to this article by historian Tom Howard. I think you will enjoy this contrast between the ways of Nero and the ways of the first Christians, including Howard’s description of why Christianity ultimately overcame the crumbling empire of Rome.


1162785971222092.yp1ayqnqcvsmboslolrp_height640_custom-175c2aac0b32e71fa8949771537068a468c369c3-s1500-c85“Alternative Mourning Rituals Offer Comfort And Closure During An Outbreak” – One of our ministry partners in Congo, Congo Initiative, is shaping culture in many ways, including helping people deal with grief during this challenging time. “With a team of four counselors, psychologist Noé Kasali — who heads Bethesda’s counseling program in Beni, an Ebola-affected city in the northeast of DRC — has helped ease mourning for those who have lost a loved one to Ebola. They have done this by creating new interpretations of the traditional funeral ceremonies that are a critical part of the Nande culture — the largest ethnic group in Beni — but without the body of the deceased present.”


09brooks_Sub-superJumbo-v8“The Pandemic of Fear and Agony” – David Brooks invited readers of his New York Times opinion column to send their feedback to him about how the pandemic is affecting their mental health. Reading his catalogue of selections from the 5,000+ replies he received is humbling, painful, and insightful. I would encourage you to read this just to know that you’re not alone and also to help us all become more aware of how others are struggling during these times. A pastor friend of mine commented a week ago that he thinks mental health is one of the fronts of ministry that will become front and center in the days ahead. I cannot help but agree.


cs-lewis_at_desk“C. S. Lewis’ Advice To Students During A Pandemic Will Do All Our Souls Good Right Now” – Perhaps in light of Brooks’ chronicle of our mental health challenges, we could use a good word. C. S. Lewis, although often over-quoted, provides rich wisdom and insight, which is probably why is often over-quoted. He is just so good in these times. Thanks to Joseph Griffith for his reflections on Lewis’ 1939 message “Learning in War-Time.”


dancing_skeletons-_-dance_of_death-_wellcome_l0006816-440a8388671527f09dfe71029e5941ca31dd978d-s1500-c85“When Pandemics Arise, Composers Carry On” – Or maybe we just need some good music to help us cope with the pandemic. Over the centuries, art has been of great help during times of suffering, and that is no less true in times of a pandemic. Tom Huizenga offers examples of musicians who did just that, including John Cooke, Johann Sebastian Bach, and, more recently, John Corigliano and Lisa Bielawa. You may have your own selections of music that soothe your soul in troubling times, but here are some who composed music like that for themselves and us.


20200414_CovidweeklydeathsUSv2“Not Like the Flu, Not Like Car Crashes, Not Like… “ – Ari Schulman, Brendan Foht, Samuel Matlack at The New Atlantis: “Any serious attempt to put coronavirus deaths in context by comparing it to some other cause of death in a previous year must acknowledge the marked differences in the Covid-19 trend — most notably, the rapid spike in deaths that is still underway, and the wide range of uncertainty about when it will peak, how high it will peak, and whether it will peak only once. As long as the pandemic is rapidly spreading, these comparisons will be fraught. Perhaps a better way to state the danger posed by the coronavirus is just that we cannot easily compare it to any precedent in recent history. Nor do we need to dispute projections about future deaths to recognize what has happened already. Amid the statistical noise is a powerful signal. The question is whether we choose to see it.”


Church-online-marketing-featured-imageMissional vs. Attractional in the Age of COVID-19? – There was a little bit of a kerfuffle online between church leaders who could be grouped within the attractional church camp (see Carey Nieuwhof’s “Half of All Churches Are Instantly Growing. Here’s Why and Here’s What to Do“) and the missional church camp (see Mike Frost’s “Coronavirus could set the church back 25 years“). Because of online church necessitated by this moment, some are advocating more and more of this while others are wringing their hands over it. I think we all just need to admit at this point that we’re all figuring out what it means to live as the church in this new moment. The old arguments about attractional vs. missional are growing tired, in my opinion, and need to be updated into a time where we see growing opportunities and hunger for deep human connection.


Dave Dummitt family“Willow Creek names Michigan pastor David Dummitt as new leader” – Speaking of attractional versus missional debates, it was easy to miss this news in the midst of everything COVID-19. Dave Dummitt, formerly of 2|42 Community Church in Ann Arbor, was named the new Senior Pastor of Willow Creek. For those who followed the Willow Creek search process, you know that it started with scandal, was criticized from the start, stalled at least once, and finally has come to a conclusion. Regardless of how you feel about everything that has gone on, let me encourage us to pray for Dave, his family, and Willow Creek as they embark on a new chapter as a church.


Music: Wilco, “Impossible Germany,” from Sky Blue Sky

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Learning to Respond to COVID-19 from Early Christians: Eusebius from his Ecclesiastical History

The Chronicles of Gilles Li Muisis plague

One of the most distinctive aspects of the early Christians was the manner in which they responded to troubles themselves while also reaching out to others. As we prepare for what looks to be ongoing results of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the moment for Christians of today to step forward by faith in relation to the needs not only of our Christian brothers and sisters, but to the community around us.

Eusebius of Caesarea, known as the father of church history, details the devastating effects of a plague which hit Caesarea in the early fourth-century, but also the manner in which the early Christians stepped forward in that time. May we be found faithful like them.

Countless numbers died in the cities and even more in the villages and countryside. Rural registers that were once full of names now were all but obliterated, since lack of food and disease destroyed almost the entire population at the same time. Some bartered their most precious possessions for the smallest scrap of food from those better supplied, while others sold their things little by little until they were reduced to desperation. Still others ruined their health and died from chewing wisps of hay and rashly eating poisonous herbs. As for the women, some ladies of the urban aristocracy were forced to beg shamelessly in the marketplaces, their embarrassment and their clothing revealed a noble upbringing.

Some shriveled like ghosts of the departed, staggered about… until they fell down, and as they lay in the middle of the streets they would beg for a small scrap of bread and, with their last gasp, cry out that they were hungry—anything more than this anguished cry was beyond them. The wealthier classes, astonished at the mass of beggars they were helping, changed to a hard and merciless attitude, since they assumed that before long they would be no better off. In the middle of the city squares and narrow lanes, naked bodies lay scattered about unburied for days on end—a most pitiful spectacle. Some were eaten by dogs, for which reason the living began killing dogs, for fear they might go mad and start devouring people.

No less horrible was the plague that infected every house, especially those that had survived the famine. The affluent, rulers, governors, and numerous officials, as if intentionally left by the famine for the plague, suffered a sudden bitter death. Moaning was heard everywhere, and funeral processions were seen in every lane, square, and street, with the usual flute playing and breast-beating. Death waging war with the two weapons of plague and famine, quickly devoured whole families, so that two or three bodies might be removed for burial in a single funeral procession.

In this awful adversity they alone [the Christian] gave practical proof of their sympathy and humanity. All day long some of them tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all, so that their deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians. Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God.

After all this, God, the great, heavenly Champion of the Christians, having displayed his wrath to all men in return for their brutal assaults against us, restored his providence to us again and caused the light of peace to shine on us out of black darkness, as it were, making it clear to all that God himself had constantly been overseeing our affairs. Sometimes he scourged his people and in due time corrected them through trials, but after enough chastening, he showed mercy and kindness to those who had hope in him.

[From Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, Book IX, Chapter 8]